Northwestern chef Cedric Taylor serves food for the body and mind


Kimberly Espinosa/Daily Senior Staffer

Cedric Taylor, Elder’s kosher chef, serves students while balancing being one himself.

Kelvin Wong, Reporter

Cedric Taylor believes cooking and teaching have a lot in common. 

“No two chefs cook a recipe the same,” Taylor said. “No two students learn the same way, either.” 

The 51-year-old Chicago native would know. Taylor worked in Chicago Public Schools kitchens for about 11 years and then moved to a South Chicago Ford factory for about 13 years. He then graduated from Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute in 2016. 

But to students, he’s Cedric, an Elder Dining Commons’ kosher station chef who goes the extra mile to make people smile, according to Weinberg freshman Dominique Woods. Though he joined Northwestern Dining last summer, he’s already made a name for himself. As he plates meals, Taylor asks students about their days and gives them a taste of his sarcastic humor.

“I go to the kosher station frequently,” Woods said. “I come for great food and stay for Cedric’s witty jokes.” 

After Taylor learned about Woods’ vegan diet, he began pre-preparing vegan kosher plates for her. Woods said it is nice for a chef to accommodate her needs.

Taylor said he has been building a rapport with the students he serves throughout his career, which began in 1990. During his time at CPS, he worked as a cafeteria chef at Arnold Mireles Academy, a South Chicago public K-8 school. 

“I cook to connect with people,” Taylor said. “Seeing and speaking with the same students every day makes you comfortable with them.” 

Taylor enrolled in Washburne to refine his culinary skills. There, he took a particular interest in food science, which trained him to invent new food combinations. He received an associate’s degree with high honors from the school. 

“(Going to culinary school) was like reading your favorite book: You kept turning pages, and it got better and better,” Taylor said. 

For the next six years, Taylor helped create menu items and supervised kitchens at several Chicago restaurants. In June 2022, he returned to serving students at Elder’s kosher station every Sunday through Thursday night while he pursues a bachelor’s degree in education at Northeastern Illinois University. 

Taylor has long associated cooking with teaching. He said his mother, who holds a master’s degree in special education from Chicago State University, would cook every meal for him and his older sister growing up. She devoted her career to teaching special education at CPS, Taylor said. 

Taylor’s mother never pushed her children to pursue a career in education, Taylor said. He recalled that she believed in finding self-fulfillment. Even when teaching Taylor to cook, she encouraged him to develop his individual style.

“She would say, ‘Don’t make it taste like mine. Make it taste like yours,’” Taylor said.

After Taylor’s mother died in 1994, her children both followed in her footsteps, pursuing education. Taylor’s sister is currently a special education instructor with CPS and aspires to become a school principal. 

Taylor plans to take summer courses at NEIU to expedite his degree, which he expects to earn in fall 2024. 

James Buggs, Taylor’s friend of 25 years, noted the chef’s dedication to perfecting his craft.

“When Cedric has a passion, he’s very driven,” Buggs said. “Cedric is hard on himself. He has the discipline to recognize his faults and eliminate distractions.”

At 8:40 a.m. every weekday, Taylor zooms into his political science and history courses. By noon — five hours before dinner — he is in Elder preparing enough kosher food for 300 students. 

Taylor is usually still fully clad in chef’s whites when he begins his homework. During his breaks, he said he tries to find a vacant table in the dining hall to start his assignments. After serving dinner, he heads home at 9 p.m. to complete his schoolwork.

“Balancing work and school is tough,” Taylor said. “But when I see the students I serve taking five classes, I tell myself, ‘I can make it work.’ The students are my motivation.”

For Taylor, students come first. With his culinary arts and education degrees, he intends to teach math, science or culinary arts at CPS. 

Taylor was still an elementary school cafeteria chef when his mother died. He believes that she would have been proud of his pursuits since. 

“My food would never taste like hers and she knew that.” Taylor said. “But I bet she would be proud that it tastes like my own.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @kelvinwwwww

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